WorldTeach volunteer Kate Piniewski talks about living in very close quarters with her learners in Namibia.
My 56 Grade 10 learners moved into school on Monday. In less than three weeks they will take their national exams, determining their eligibility to continue with their education through Grade 12. So in order to ensure proper study habits, a (medium) well-balanced diet, and a stronger sense of camaraderie—or misery, depending which learner you ask—they have packed their bags, tents, pencils, and calculators and become my neighbors for the next seven weeks. As one learner so gently put it, “Miss, you are our first parent now. We spend more hours a day with you than with our parents. They must come second.”
The girls are staying in an empty classroom. It is a large group of females in a not-so-large room. Remember the classrooms made out of sticks and tin that I used to teach in? Well that is where the boys have set up their tents. And where they have built a temporary ‘shower’. I couldn’t help but laugh when they first started building their structure in plain view of the girls’ dorm. I’ve learned that teenage boys are the same in any country.
|Deconstructing an old bathroom to make a shower|
|Building at sunset|
|One of the boys’ rooms|
One parent or guardian of almost every learner signed up for cooking shifts. Three memescome at 5 AM to prepare breakfast. Three more come around 11 AM to cook lunch and then dinner. Each learner was required to bring 5 kg ofmahangu flour for cooking. Every learner donated US$5 to buy bread, tea, fish, rice, macaroni, and a few vegetables to supplement the porridge. Although we are only on day five, the system is working well and no one is starving yet. In fact, some have proudly told me they “are gaining”.
|Bags of mahangu flour, ready to be weighed|
Bags of mahangu flour, ready to be weighed
After school on Monday, Mr. Ndeulita (the camping ‘superintendent’), Tomas, and I held a meeting to review rules and regulations. This year camping is compulsory and not every one is thrilled about it, especially after hearing the guidelines set in place. Tomas read the rules, one by one. Here are some highlights from his motivational/disciplinarian/I’m-not-sure-what speech.
“The moment you leave the school it is like you have only a one-way ticket to Japan. You are never coming back.”
“Let’s add some extra tin to that boys’ room to keep out snakes and other poisonous things.”
“School language is like we don’t insult, we don’t talk about politics, we don’t talk about our chickens at home. If you miss your chickens, go home.”
“If you want to succeed expect the worst, they say.”
|Rules Contract… to be clear, I signed off
on most of them, not the principal
And from one of my favorite learners, Kaaleb, who lives only with his elderly grandmother:
“When they asked what parent is coming to cook for us, I put your name in. So get ready.”
The next best quote came on day two of camping when the school toilets started to overflow. Learners now need to use the woods outside of the school, but have to ask for permission to leave the school grounds. When I was first asked for permission I did not know about the toilet situation. The conversation went like this:
Festus and Olavi: “Miss, can you let us go out?”
Miss Kate: “Why? You aren’t allowed out.”
Festus: “We need to drop feces. Now now.”
Miss Kate: “Alright, when you put it like that…”
|Late night studying|
Camping with the Grade 10s is a lot of work. But good work. I mean I get to end every day in my own bed and I’m not studying 12+ hours a day, so it is less work for me than for my learners. And thus far I am having a lot of fun. In addition to my responsibilities as their English teacher, I’m tutoring math, history, and geography at night. I get to spend extra quality time with my best classes in the early mornings, afternoons and evenings. We chat about the future, the exams, the love lives, the fear, the excitement. We eat together, we work together, we struggle together, we laugh together.
|When trying to fix a water tap, always take a
break to model
|I should probably get fired for letting this photo
happen, but it really is very cute.
–Kate Piniewski, WorldTeach Namibia 2014